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K-pop, Mandopop and other Asian pop

Korean Air raises no-show fees to stop obsessive K-pop fans buying tickets just to get close to bands

  • Three fans of Wanna One boarded a flight in Hong Kong to take photos of their idols, then disembarked, causing an hour’s delay
  • Premium tickets allow for full refunds, a loophole that Korean Air is determined to close
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 9:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 9:30pm

The latest trick employed by K-pop fans desperate to get close to band members, which sees them buy expensive airline tickets and then abruptly cancel their flight once they have taken photos of their idols, has prompted South Korea’s flagship airline to increase refund penalties for late cancellations.

Korean Air announced the decision days after three fans of the boy band Wanna One took their obsession to extremes, boarding a Seoul-bound flight in Hong Kong to take photos of the band’s 11 members. They then demanded that they be allowed to disembark just minutes before take-off and that they be given a refund.

Obsessive Chinese fans of K-pop stars Wanna One force flight to be delayed

“The fact is there were passengers who falsely checked in on the flight to see celebrities,” a Korean Air official said.

The fans, two from China and one from Hong Kong, ignored the cabin crew’s requests to take their seats and forced 360 other people on board to leave the plane with their carry-on luggage and go back through security screening – a legal requirement when passengers disembark voluntarily.

The incident delayed the flight on December 15 by almost an hour, Korean Air said.

From January, however, the airline said it would make passengers who cancel international flights after passing through the departure gate pay an additional fine of 200,000 won (US$177).

Wanna One had been performing at the 2018 Mnet Asian Music Awards in Hong Kong on Friday.

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Korean Air said it had dealt with 35 similar incidents in the past year, but speculated the total would rise to several hundred if other South Korean airlines were included.

“There have been several cases in which fans deliberately buy expensive tickets that offer better rebate terms, and then demand a refund,” a spokesman for the airline told the Korea Times.

“However, as far as I know, this is the first time a group actually got on the plane and asked to leave [just] before take-off.”

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Buying expensive – and fully refundable – tickets gives fans access to exclusive airport facilities, increasing their chances of being able to photograph famous artists at close quarters and sell the images online, the newspaper said.

Korean Air currently imposes relatively minor penalties on passengers who make last-minute cancellations.

While some premium tickets can cost more than two million won (US$1,770), “no-show” penalties for Korean Air services range from about 120,000 won (US$105) for long-haul flights and as little as 50,000 won (US$45) won for shorter flights to countries such as Japan and China.